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The Black Swan

The Impact of the Highly Improbable

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The most influential book of the past seventy-five years: a groundbreaking exploration of everything we know about what we don’t know, now with a new section called “On Robustness and Fragility.”

A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives.

Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know. We are, therefore, unable to truly estimate opportunities, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the “impossible.”

For years, Taleb has studied how we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do. We restrict our thinking to the irrelevant and inconsequential, while large events continue to surprise us and shape our world. In this revelatory book, Taleb will change the way you look at the world, and this second edition features a new philosophical and empirical essay, “On Robustness and Fragility,” which offers tools to navigate and exploit a Black Swan world.

Taleb is a vastly entertaining writer, with wit, irreverence, and unusual stories to tell. He has a polymathic command of subjects ranging from cognitive science to business to probability theory. Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications, The Black Swan is a landmark book—itself a black swan.

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Recommendations: 3

Categories: Business & CareersManagement & Leadership

Reading time: 1314 hours


Matt Mullenweg

The second is a much more controversial author, but I would say ever since I was exposed to one of his early works, Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, I will probably always be a fan of Nassim Taleb and he is, you know, a writer who is not humble, who, you know, is not afraid of sprinkling tons of obscure references and non-obscure references. You could easily take one of his books and then read 20 or 30 others, but he is a provocative thinker. He is an original thinker in many ways. He’s a fun writer and he writes in a very engaging style and whether you agree with or disagree with him, I think your mind will be sharper for having read his work and considered it. The Black Swan was, I think, the very first one I read of his and a wonderful introduction. But all of his books are quite fun and funny and I will continue to keep reading everything that he publishes.

Tim Ferriss
Entrepreneur, Investor, Author, and Podcaster

The Black Swan in particular is the one that caught my attention.

Edward Norton
Actor, Director and Writer

I think it’s an extremely like, if you absorb it right, it’s got a really amazing capacity to prick certain bubbles of delusion or help you realize bubbles of delusion that we all operate in. It’s really cool.